To the diehard shopper, Bangkok is a treasure trove. Available merchandise runs the gamut from the biggest luxury labels to the lowliest of streetside finds spread out on a blanket on the sidewalk
So it comes as little surprise that Bangkokians would offer around-the-clock opportunities to spend your little heart out.
Yes, there are myriad shopping centres and trendy boutiques in hipster areas like Aree and Thonglor.
Yes, there are the down-to-earth walkways cluttered with affordable bric-a-brac in Little India and Chinatown.
And yes, there is the biggest open-air market in South-east Asia on the weekends, known to all as Chatuchak..
But perhaps the most rewarding shopping experiences in the city are the ones open only at night: Bangkok’s beloved night bazaars.
The carnival atmosphere, the bright lights reminiscent of a country fair, the heaving crowds made up mostly of people happy to simply be a part of the scene — these are all elements of the most popular night markets in the city right now, each catering to a different segment of the population.
Even though it is very much a tourist attraction, no discussion of the city’s night markets is complete without mention of this sprawling complex built on the site of the Siamese-Danish Port of East Asiatic, which opened the gateway to international trade between the Thai kingdom and Europe.
Comprising 1,500 shops and 40 restaurants, Asiatique also houses the Joe Louis Puppet Theater, featuring the endangered art of shadow puppetry, and the popular Calypso Cabaret show.
Also called ‘Talad Rot Fai Esplanade’ (Esplanade Complex, Rachadaphisek Rd), this branch of the original ‘Train Market’ resides in a far more accessible location close to Bangkok’s Thai Cultural Center subway (MRT) station. It’s smaller than its big sister, but you won’t have to brave hours of traffic to find it. Even better, the same festival-like atmosphere pervades the former parking lot, thanks to the bright lights, hordes of food vendors and live music playing nightly.
Although more popular with the locals, this market is less about the shopping and more about the partying: street eats, beer and bands dominate the scene. But there are some good finds for the persistent, such as vintage-style home furnishings, neon signs and pre-loved apparel. If possible, try to go on a weeknight instead of a weekend when crowds render you nearly immobile.
Rot Boran Market is difficult to find, but for shopping mavens with an eye for the retro and fabulous, the search for this ‘Classic Car Market’ (The Walk, Kaset-Nawamin Rd) is worth it. Located behind the community mall known as ‘The Walk’, the market is made up of classic cars repurposed into stalls, each selling vintage or secondhand goods nice enough for another spin around the block.
Good choices abound, from the cool (international vinyl, knick-knacks and lunchboxes) to the traditional (Buddhist amulets and jewellery). The setting itself, next to a lake, makes you feel leagues away from Bangkok, and the crowd is the cream of the city’s in-the-know hipsters. If you manage to navigate through the ‘The Walking Dead’-like unfinished highway pillars to the market’s location, you’re set.
The newest of Bangkok’s night bazaars, this evocatively named market (JJ Green, Bang Son MRT) – Siam Gypsy Junction – is actually close to the city’s original open-air market, Chatuchak. Remaking the gloomy stretch of the once-abandoned road beneath the “Ban Son” subway station, the market’s owners have transformed the 1.6 kilometres of space into a charming spot reminiscent of a hippie outpost in a 1960s spaghetti western.
But the best thing about the market is the goods. Split into sections for easier shopping — comics, secondhand clothing, porcelain, etc — the best finds have a retro feel that can’t be found in other markets. Think auto parts, cool toys and Harley-Davidson collectibles. When the browsing gets to be a bit much, kick back with a beer at one of the pop-up bars on the premises.